Friday, October 28, 2016


I pull over in front of the school.  In my impatience, I even forget to signal.  The driver behind me, gracious despite my erratic move, doesn’t honk.  I glance at the School Bus Zone sign.  No yellow curb,  and, it’s two o’oclock in the afternoon.  So I’m safe for the two minutes I need to jot down the aphorism I spied on the school sign a few metres back.  We can dance when we find music that we love.   Okay, I think.  Self-evident, really.  How can you disagree with that?  The larger question is, though, Do I want to dance only when it’s my kind of music?

Of course,  it’s easy to dance when there’s music we love.   When a favorite song comes on, my feet begin to tap, my torso sways in time, and my fingers drum on the table.  I don’t jive so well, but when Len Gadica plays the first chords of "Come Go With Me" (The Beach Boys), I am already up and moving, singing "Dom dom dom dom dom /  dom be dooby / dom whoa whoa whoa whoa."  Maybe I even look like I know what I'm doing.  At least, I am one with the music and my partner for those glorious minutes.

Life can work like that, too.  Some people call it being in the zone.  We find ourselves in a context where the planets align—our abilities, our training, the people who surround us, the workplace mood, and a sense of accomplishment, all come together.  Magic happens.   David Whyte, in Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimmage of Identity, cites an analogy to the swan from an Austrian monk.  On land, the bird has an ungainly waddle.  He doesn’t "cure his awkwardness by beating himself on the back, by moving faster, or by trying to organize himself better.  He does it by moving toward the elemental water, where he belongs.  It is the simple contact with the water that gives him grace and presence."   To be transformed,  then, "You only have to touch the elemental waters in your own life."  In other words, you only need to find music that you love.  

I have experienced periods of that kind of synergy (see Antidote blog post).  The thing is, I want to dance all the time, or at least most of the time, not just when I have music I love.  Not just when I am in my elemental waters, or when all the planets align.  It can take a long time to find the music you love, or you might hear it only intermittently.  What about the rest of the time?   Life is too short to dance only once in a while. 

So, a few decades ago,  I decided to dance no matter what the music.  That was the first step, the decision itself.  I wouldn’t let my environment or circumstances determine my outlook.  I would paste on a smile if I had to; I would will myself onto the dance floor even if I didn’t like the music.  In the end, those efforts have paid off.  I have preserved my joy.  I don’t care what day of the week it is—Monday, Friday, Sunday, no matter.  Each day brings delights. 

Another pivotal attitude reset was the realization that I am the critical factor.  The dancer, not the kind of music, makes the dance.  As a friend of a friend said to her daughter who wanted to change schools, "Remember, wherever you go, you are there, too."  I can dance if I want to.  Maybe if I dance, others will dance, too.  I don’t need an invitation.  I’ve come a long way from the high school wallflower days.

It’s been helpful, too, to insulate myself with a Star-Trekkian magnetic field that repels negativity.  Most of the time, the field protects me.  It can thin a little in vulnerable spots, though.  At those times, I catch myself going beyond healthy personal reflection for growth to hyper self-criticism.  I have to remain vigilant.  Breaks in the music feed make dancing very difficult. 

Music we love does heighten the pleasure we get from dance. It might even help us attain heights we never thought possible.  Conversely, music we don’t like doesn’t have to limit us.  We can decide to rock out no matter the conditions.

Friday, October 21, 2016


I lounge on the deck in the cushioned Adirondack chair,
coffee on one arm,
Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle on the other,
in summer’s end
as much as in the story.

Through my transparent sanctuary,
I notice my husband 
wandering around the patio,
poking in the shed,
peering around the swing,
circling the table, 
eyes toward the ground.

"What are you up to?" I ask.

"I bought a can of white paint.  Can’t remember where I put it."

"Studies show that  breakfast with your wife on the deck enhances memory," I offer.

He stops, looks up.  
A warm slow smile softens his face 
and lights his eyes.

"Well, let’s test that theory out."
He brings coffee and a muffin,
and settles into the empty chair beside me.
We chat:  
about the new fence
and his outdoor projects,
my coaching contract,
our refugee family,
our children.

The paintcan bell of the real world tolls for us both,
even on this glorious morning.
He gives in to its summons.
I succumb to temptation
(the only way to deal with it)
and steal a few more minutes.   
Has The Glass Castle shattered?

As I read, he saunters by, grinning now,
paint can in hand, this time.

"Where was it?" I ask.

"In the shed, on the small table."

"Conversation reset your brain," I suggest.
He laughs,
one more coat of connection layered on
our own glass castle.

Sunday, October 16, 2016


This blog has called my name for two months already, and for two months, I’ve resisted its summons. Sometimes, the preoccupations of the day suffocated the cry.   Other times, I couldn't string together coherent thoughts.  Thank you to those who visited anyway during my absence.  I’m so grateful.    Now, it’s time to give voice to the ideas I scribbled in my notebook in stolen moments during that time.

So, what’s been so important during July and August that I couldn’t make the time to write?  Why couldn’t I muster enough energy to machete through the undergrowth of my reflections and arrive at a clearing worthy of expression?  My only explanation is that my focus over the past two months has been outward.  The denominator common to all fronts—instructional coaching in the professional domain, refugee support in the social justice area of community work, volunteer recognition and music preparation in parish ministry sector, and helping hands for the family as our daughter and son-in-law welcomed their first child—was helpfulness.  

Helpfulness, I have been reminded throughout the past two months, is a dance.   Not a solo  act, though, that relies on inner forces like focus, for example, or response to music; memorization, maybe, and physical strength and flexibility.  Not even, either, a line dance, where you dance alone with others.  Rather, helpfulness is a waltz. You move in time to music and in response to the cues and steps of a partner, so that the entire experience is memorable and enjoyable for both people.  In that context, over the last few months, I learned some things about helpfulness.

·      Communication is vital. 
It’s important to chat with your partner throughout the dance.  Be clear about your purpose and your state of mind.    I thought I should own up to our daughter and her husband that my joy in being there for a few days was not only altruistic.  I had to acknowledge my selfish motives, too—the time with a grandson that I will see only every six weeks or so, and my desire to establish a close relationship with him.  I thought they needed to know, as well, that whatever perspectives and experience I might share, I thought of them as information, not advice.  All of us have valid and considered reasons for our actions.

·      The music drives the experience. 
The context of proferred help is key.  In my professional duty, my role is to respond to the needs of the teacher. The teacher identifies the desired outcome, and my job is to help that person get there, through probing questions, specific feedback, modeling, and the identification of potential resources.  Helpfulness is never about me.

·      Less turns out to be more. 
Before our refugee family arrived, I heard a follow-up interview with refugees who had been in Canada about six months.  One of their challenges, they admitted, was fashioning a relationship with their sponsors that led to their independence.  What a key revelation for me, and for our committee, as we try to support and facilitate our family,  not hover over them.  The right combination of support and pressure, a coach friend of mine always says, is the core principle of her work with teachers.  That’s a mantra that applies to refugee sponsorship as well as education.  Helpfulness must respect the wishes and the autonomy of the people to whom I am lending a hand.

·      Let go and enjoy. 
I’ve never considered myself a great dancer.  I can dance with my husband because he’s very patient, I dance with him more often than anyone else, of course, and he’s a free spirit who is never limited by what tradition or habit have dictated the dance steps ought to be.  Whereas I might point out my missteps or my awkwardness, he just loses himself in moving to the music.  Though being conscious of one’s own actions and words does enable helpfulness, the profound satisfaction and joy, I am learning, come from zeroing in on the relationships and the larger purpose.

·      Know when to stop. 
Before your feet hurt, before you’re counting the steps to the end of the dance, before the exaltation of moving with another person to a beat that won’t be denied fades, call it a night.  Helpfulness, too, has its tipping point, after which our services can come across as obstruction, interference, or worse, imposition.   As educator and researcher Gary Phillips (I think he's the one who uttered the phrase I heard decades ago at a teachers’ conference) has said,  When your horse has died, it’s a good idea to get off.   The trick is to be aware when your help is no longer needed.

Now, as the waltz ends and the band’s introduction promises new rhythms,  the needs in my sectors of involvement resume and mutate, informed, I hope, by the insights I have gained.   Ready to embrace the next steps, I feel refreshed and grateful for what I have taken away while I thought I was giving.